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Keywords: Excel, VBA, spreadsheets, Office

Title: Excel Hacks

Authors: David & Raina Hawley

Publisher: O'Reilly

ISBN: 059600625X

Media: Book

Level: Beginner, Intermediate

Verdict: A good book to dip into for ideas

In this addition to the 'Hacks' series we get to look at '100 industrial-strength tips and tools' for Microsoft's Excel. As with the other books in the series, such as Google Hacks or Spidering Hacks, the individual items in the book range from the interesting to the 'so-what' to the brilliant.

Organised into eight chapters, which start with 'reducing workbook and worksheet frustration' and finish with 'connecting Excel to the outside world', by way of 'hacking Excel's built-in features', 'naming hacks', 'hacking pivot tables', 'charting hacks', 'hacking formulas and functions' and 'macro hacks'. As you would expect from that list, most aspects of using Excel get at least some coverage.

Don't forget to take a look at our own Excel VBA tutorial

As someone who uses Excel most days of the week, both as a developer and as an end-user, some of the hacks in the book still managed to be surprising. The creation and use of dynamic ranges for example, not only managed to be new it provided a solution to a problem that occurs often enough. Of course not all of the hacks were that surprising, but it was interesting to see that other people had found similar work-arounds to the ones that I use day in and day out.

Many of the hacks will work in most recent versions of Excel, certainly most of them will work as well in Excel 97 as they do in Excel 2003. There are exceptions of course, the chapter on connecting Excel to the outside world used the XML functionality from Excel 2003 quite heavily. However this chapter also included a useful hack that looked at accessing Excel files from Java using the Jakarta POI library.

For an experienced VBA developer the macro section contained little that would be new. On the other hand for a user dipping her toes into the macro waters there is some good stuff here, including the section on how to distribute code in the form of xla files.

With an application as big and as complex as Excel there's always room to discover something new - just as there are always annoyances and complications that you have to work around. 'Excel Hacks' is a good little volume to have around, not just to refer to when you want to find an answer to a problem, but because it's great to dip into every once in a while.

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